Teenage Rape Victims and the Culture of Blame

2013 has sadly seen the media alight with stories of teenage rape victims (and in some cases perpetrators). From the Steubenville rape case to the heartbreaking suicides of young Canadian rape victim Rehtaeh Parsons and fourteen year old American Cherice Moralez. Whilst I would usually steer clear of grouping such cases together, each of these cases have something common besides the age of the victims – in each case, the courts have defended the attackers and placed blame with the child victims.

Scales of JusticeAs reports of these cases have made their way across the pond and reached newspaper headlines the United Kingdom has for the most part sat back whilst responding with horror. But, this summer, the victim-blaming curse reached a little too close to home – UK Judge Nigel Peters handed a more than lenient jail sentence to rapist Neil Wilson, 41, describing Wilson’s 13-year-old victim as ‘predatory’ and as having ‘egged him [Wilson] on’ in his summary.

After an outcry from campaign groups Neil Wilson’s case and sentence is being reviewed and Judge Peters has been relieved from ever presiding over any sexual abuse cases again. Quite right, but this case has – understandably – sent shock waves throughout the British legal system.

In my mind, when a country’s legal establishment is represented by a figure who believes a thirteen year old girl is culpable for her own rape, this is proof that we live in a society which is shaped and defined by institutional misogyny. UK law protects underage victims of either gender because – both developmentally and emotionally – they do not have the maturity to make adult decisions about sex or sexual contact. When this statute is not fully understood – or indeed is ignored – by the people who enforce it, we fall foul, as an institution, of victim blaming.

Rape and sexual assault are the only offences in which a victim can be considered culpable for the crime committed against them. It’s an age-old example, but would a burglar be let off because the windows of their victim’s house were left open? No. So why are sex crimes judged differently? It is not just female victims that are misrepresented either – our laws frequently paint males to be victims of their urges, so primitive that the slightest flash of female flesh sends them into a sexual frenzy. It seems to me that we really need to afford everybody more respect.

David Cameron has spent this summer appealing to the parents of the nation, promising porn filters to combat the sexualisation of our children and young people. The issue here is that Cameron’s own governing bodies already paint our youths as sexualised beings with the ability to tempt fully-grown adults into committing sex crimes. David Cameron’s government can blame the media and porn industries as much as they want, but if they don’t defend the child victims of our already sexualised culture, then their proposed changes will be worth nothing.

Yes we live in a highly-sexualised culture, yes porn is prolific in our surroundings, yes social media is often misused by young people. But – we must stop thinking that a new, digital society means that we cannot understand young people. This is simply not the case – the natural development of a child is just the same – they, however, are functioning in a world that they do not have the emotional capacity to understand. Our laws must defend this innocence. The laws are in place and they do work, so long as our legal representatives have the courage to uphold and use them correctly.

As for the young thirteen year old girl blamed for a sex crime committed against her by a man three times her age and life experience, I can only hope that her rape does not define her. That she holds on to her youth, looking on the world with fresh eyes. That she experiences all she can without fear, trying not to harbour resentment, realising that men are loving creatures and that she is deserving of this love.

Most of all, I hope this horrendous incident does not shape this child’s future choices, and that Judge Peters’ ignorance does not affect the woman she is to become.

Photograph by Michael Coghlan. 









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